Saturday 10 September 2016

Gods Behaving Badly; or Revenge of the ParOlympian

Cambridgeshire hero Peacock
My jaw hit the ground watching local Cambridgeshire hero Jonnie Peacock yesterday win gold in Rio by running 100 metres in 10.9 seconds. I could not run it in 50 seconds and I have my original two legs.  His victory came as I prepare a paper for a conference in Patras on the only Greek god who was disabled (and the only one in full-time employment). But he had the last laugh on Olympus.

Hephaestus was born clubfooted and his callous mother Hera (the Queen of Heaven to whom peacocks happen to be sacred) threw him away. He was brought up by sympathetic nymphs in Lemnos and trained in metalwork

"Who's laughing now, mum?" says Hephaestus (left)
But he got his revenge on his mother by sending her a golden throne with a secret mechanism which entrapped her.  She was the one being mocked now. Only he had the know-how to release her.

The war-god Ares failed to get Hephaestus back to Olympus by force. Dionysus, who had also been snubbed by other gods, had more success by plying him with wine. Hephaestus, sometimes on a donkey, along with Dionysus and a retinue of revelling satyrs and bacchants, was at last welcomed on Olympus, club feet and all.

Club feet did not stop Hephaestus getting last laugh
On another occasion Hephaestus was mocked because his recent bride Aphrodite had an affair with Ares. Hephaestus devised a trap which caught them in flagrante in a net. Inextinguishable laughter arose amongst the gods. He got his status and pride back, plus an instant divorce with full financial compensation.  

Pin the Tail on the Donkey, anyone?
The Return of Hephaestus, a.k.a. ‘Gods Behaving Badly’, was a popular scene on Athenian wine jugs. It was reenacted by citizen pals every year on the booziest day of the religious calendar, the feast of the wine-jugs at the Anthesteria festival. I want to be there

A Useful Handle for Hanging refills on
The vase-paintings fascinate me for the variety of joyous things Hephaestus’ gang could do with wine jugs, as well as the phalluses and tails of satyrs and donkeys. Revenge of the ParOlympian indeed.

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